Monday, September 26, 2011

The world is my editor.

For those of you who have not discovered Miracle Jones, he is an incredibly prolific and talented fiction writer who confines his writing to blogs and e-books. I sent him an email praising his two novels, Sharing and Shifting, both available on Smashwords (the first one is free). He replied graciously and wrote the phrase I have used as the title for this entry.

And it got me to thinking.

Although a carefully prepared, edited, proofread, and typeset book is to be greatly desired, most printed books have at least a few typos or other errors.  Maybe there are sentences that would have been better had they been shaped a little differently, or descriptions that just miss their mark. I was once asked on a radio show in Jacksonville if there was a time in the writing process when I knew when a poem was finished. I replied that I hoped it was finished after each edit, but knew that it was not. The radio show was in conjunction with a reading tour I was doing with Jean Monahan--our first books of poetry came out at virtually the same time and from the same press.

In the years that have elapsed since that radio show, I put my own book from that tour--The Secret Life of Moles--on Smashwords and Amazon as an e-book. But because the original book file was lost, I had to retype the entire thing and, you guessed it, I made well over a hundred changes to a book that had been gone over with a fine sieve when it was first published. Is it a better book now? I think it is, but there are two schools of thought here.

When Thomas Pynchon decided to publish his early stories, he made the conscious decision to publish them exactly as they looked in the original magazines in which they appeared. He thought that, although he might have been able to polish them up, a revised story would not have been true to the spirit of the young Tom. It's also possible that he was just lazy and didn't want to fool with them. On the other hand, Henry James insisted on revising his entire oeuvre for what is known as his New York Edition. Unfortunately, by the time Henry decided to do this, his use of language had developed to such a degree that his earlier books became verbose and overly complicated. Few people read the New York Edition, but for that matter, few people read Pynchon's Slow Learner, either.

With the advent of the e-book, however, maybe there can be a time when a work is finally finished. Think what would have happened if Henry James had put his New York Edition revisions out as e-books before they were actually put in print. Would the screams of the purists have changed his mind about the total overhaul? And would Thomas Pynchon have spruced up some of the language in Slow Learner? We can only hope.

For probably the first time in history, readers have easy access to authors through their blogs, websites, or social networks. If you buy an e-book on Smashwords, you have the right to review it on their site--another way of communicating with the author. Authors are rarely their own best editors, but by bypassing the megapublishers, writers are also missing out on the real talents of some of today's editors and proofreaders--the difference in professionalism between most of the e-book originals I have read and most books by the large print publishers is obvious and for e-book literature to thrive and grow, this must change.

That's where the world comes in. And I'll invite you right now--if you find anything wrong with my own books, shoot me an email. If I agree, I'll fix it with thanks. Remember that, unlike Amazon, once you buy a book on Smashwords, it is yours forever, in any format (another phrase from Miracle Jones, this time from his nonfiction blog). That goes for revisions, too.

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